Cheteshwar proud to play 100 Tests, but determined to be part of the Indian team which could clinch Test cricket’s biggest prize later in the year
India batsman Cheteshwar Pujara inspects the pitch ahead of the 2nd Test v Australia at the Arun Jaitley Stadium in New Delhi yesterday. Pic/PTI
On the cusp of becoming the 13th Indian to reach the 100-Test milestone at the Arun Jaitley Stadium here today as India take on Australia in the second Test match, Cheteshwar Pujara today talked about the various challenges he had faced during his long career, his most notable knocks and the difficulties in playing only the longest format of the game.
He also declared that while he was “excited” in attaining the coveted landmark, his dream was to be part of the squad that qualify for the final and then lifts the World Test Championship in June.
“I am glad to be playing my 100th Test. At the same time, we are in the middle of an important series. So hopefully, we win this Test, move on and win another Test which will ensure we qualify for the WTC Finals. Yes, my dream is to win that WTC Final for the Indian team. Hopefully, once we qualify, we’ll look towards that,” Pujara, 35, told reporters on the eve of reaching his milestone. The Rajkot-born batsman also recalled the way he had fought his way back after being left out of the Test series against Sri Lanka last year.
“It was challenging. I started playing county cricket for Sussex, that’s when I started scoring runs and found my rhythm back.
Runs got him back
“Then when I started scoring runs, I knew I would be picked in the Indian team again. I was ready when I got the opportunity to play that one-off Test in England [Birmingham in 2022] because I had played enough first-class games for Sussex and scored runs that gave me a lot of confidence.”
The knocks he mentioned as special were his debut second innings essay of 72 in Bangalore against Australia in 2010, 92 in the second innings at Bangalore in March 2013, 153 (his debut overseas ton out of 19 overall), in Johannesburg against South Africa in December of 2013, the second innings 123 for a winning cause against Australia at the Adelaide Oval in December 2018 and the brave 56 when he took blows from the fast bowlers on his body in January 2021, a game that India won to clinch the series.
White ball challenge
He conceded the difficulty in playing only one format of the game at the international level while remarking he has added a few shots to his repertoire by playing in white-ball cricket for Sussex and home association, Saurashtra.
“It is challenging. If you look at the current schedule, on average we play about nine Tests. When you play one series and go back home, unless you’re playing first-class cricket, you’re mostly just sitting at home and watching cricket on television.
“That’s the most important part for a Test cricketer, to keep challenging yourself, to keep training. I felt during COVID, when we didn’t have first-class cricket it was the most challenging time being a Test cricketer. I was just sitting at home, practising, and just waiting for Tests to happen. It’s important for a Test cricketer to keep playing first-class cricket. It is challenging to be a one-format player, but it is important to keep motivating yourself.
“In white-ball cricket when I had played for Saurashtra and Sussex, I have tried playing a few shots, I have tried using the sweep shot against fast bowlers, the paddle and and a few reverse sweeps as well. I have had to open my mindset because when I want to implement a few shots in Test cricket, you are a bit more flexible and a bit more open-minded towards trying things out. That has helped me be successful, even in Bangladesh, where I had to play a few shots to accelerate the scoring.”
He also mentioned James Anderson in English conditions, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel in South Africa and Pat Cummins in Australia as some of the toughest bowlers he had come across in his illustrious career.